Ed Davey writes… Power to the people

Power to the People! Edward Davey and Greg Barker in BrixtonFor those of you old enough to remember, ‘Power to the People’ was the battle cry of ‘Wolfie Smith’, Robert Lindsay’s character in the BBC sitcom ‘Citizen Smith’. The running joke of the series was that while he had radical and revolutionary ideas, the delivery side was left somewhat lacking.

What I’ve announced today is both radical and sets out how community energy will be delivered. Astonishingly, it’s Britain’s first ever community energy strategy and will empower communities up and down the country to produce and block buy energy and reduce their energy bills.

Don’t get me wrong, my focus at DECC has not changed – to deliver a low carbon energy mix that keeps the lights on, reduces emissions and protects consumers from the volatile costs of relying on increasing foreign fossil fuel imports. And since 2010, we’ve seen massive investment in renewable electricity – doubling renewable electricity generation in just 3 years. Britain is ranked the number one place in the world for offshore wind investment.

But community energy can also help our low carbon ambitions. Why shouldn’t Britain’s energy mix include energy produced and saved by communities? It’s estimated that by 2020, community energy schemes could produce enough energy to power 1 million homes.

As of today, DECC now has a dedicated Community Energy Unit to ensure we’re doing whatever we can to help. But, for Community Energy, the clue is in the title. This is not a top-down strategy, prescribed by Whitehall, but rather one that gives people the tools they need to drive their own local solutions.

Can you imagine a Labour Government sanctioning a strategy giving communities freedom rather than red-tape and total central control? Can you imagine the idea even being born, let alone launched under a Conservative Government? Community Energy has Lib Dem values at its very heart.

This strategy could not have been produced without community energy experts from across the UK, running some of the UK’s estimated 5,000 community energy projects. Projects like Brixton Energy Solar that I visited last year. The community had built solar panels on the rooves of their housing: new skills had been learnt, the community had grown stronger and money from the project was flowing back into the community.

Yet in so many community energy projects I’ve spoken to, there have been frustrations: they hadn’t found it easy to access advice, to find funding to get started or to navigate the complexities of the regulators.

So, much of today’s strategy is a ‘tool-kit’ that will help other communities come up with solutions that work best for them. This includes:

  • £10m Urban Community Energy Fund to kick-start renewable community energy generation projects in England. It will provide communities with funding of up to £150,000, and links to our £15m Rural Community Energy Fund we launched last year
  • £1m Big Energy Saving Network funding to support the work of volunteers helping vulnerable consumers to reduce their energy and switch energy suppliers.
  • a community energy saving competition, offering £100,000 to communities to develop innovative approaches to saving energy and money; and
  • a ‘one-stop shop’ information resource for people interested in developing community energy projects.

In the strategy, you’ll learn how we’re helping councils investigate options for district heating; how we’re stimulating partnerships between the private sector and local groups for community shares in renewable projects; how we want the Green Investment Bank to play a leading role in the future; and how through our £80 million Green Deal Communities funding we want to link local authorities into this growing movement.

Many people are telling us they want to do things their own way, whether it’s to reduce their energy bills, or turn their backs on Labour’s Big 6. What Lib Dems in Government have announced today will help them to do exactly that and deliver ‘power to the people’.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston & Surbiton and Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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23 Comments

  • Steve Griffiths 27th Jan '14 - 1:00pm

    @Ed Davey

    “For those of you old enough to remember, ‘Power to the People’ was the battle cry of ‘Wolfie Smith’, Robert Lindsay’s character in the BBC sitcom ‘Citizen Smith’. The running joke of the series was that while he had radical and revolutionary ideas, the delivery side was left somewhat lacking.”

    I do remember that TV series, but I also remember the Liberal Party’s manifestos in the early 1970s in which the phrase “Power to the People” featured strongly, (especially Oct 74). At the time the party perceived that the electorate were becoming alienated from the politicians at Westminster (sounds familiar?).

  • jenny barnes 27th Jan '14 - 1:50pm

    Under the latest planning laws, developers in our area have considerable freedom to bring forward proposed allegedly sustainable developments, as our local council has failed to create an acceptable local plan. Not enough housing on it, apparently. A few days ago I went to a “community consultation” on a proposed development of 70 or so houses on a greenfield site on the edge of town. The developer was extremely unenthusiastic about district heating, even though clearly if it’s going to be installed it should be at the building stage. Apparently the market, including housing associations, don’t want the hassle. So do you really expect councils to get involved? I believe there is a case for councils operating things that are publically beneficial like this, but the Coalition seems to believe that public sector anything is bad. So maybe your strategy does help councils investigate options for district heating – not sure what good that does anyone.

  • It is easy to be confused by Ed Davey. Today he is arguing as above and yet it is only a few days since he was fighting BITTERLY AGAINST RENEWABLES as The Guardian reported his efforts at EU level. Thank goodness he was put in his place by the Germans, the French and the Italians!

    Of course he has a record of saying one thing and doing another. His nuclear u-turn is one of the most disgraceful in UK political history. His legacy will be more expensive domestic fuel bills to pay for an eternity of nuclear waste. His very own Fukushima on the edge of the Somerset Wetlands. Anyone watching the TV pictures of Somerset under water since Christmas might question the wisdom of turn-again-Davey.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 6:16pm

    I’m a supporter of Ed Davey, but unfortunately I don’t think community energy projects are a good idea. If I want something done by the community then I think it should be done by local government.

    Best wishes

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 6:28pm

    If local people want to set up their own mutual then I have no problem with it, but I don’t think they should be given money from the government.

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Jan '14 - 6:51pm

    “Labour’s Big 6”

    The most bizarre thing I’ve ever read on LDV.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 7:30pm

    I’ve got no problem with outsourcing public sector projects, which is what this seems to be, but I’m suspicious of mutuals and co-operatives, much more so than private companies or the government. My problem with mutuals and co-operatives is that they often just act like a private company, but pretend they are not. They are also not winning business on the basis that they will deliver, but mainly because they have the trendy co-operative name. They are largely a recipe for disaster.

    I’ll have to read up on the legal differences between UK co-operatives and private companies, because at the moment I think they are a poorer alternative to private companies or the state.

  • @jenny barnes
    Totally agree, our house building industry and current building and planning regulations are in need of major updating over and above what is planned for inclusion in the 2016 update; BEFORE we start building all those homes that every one keeps saying we need to build…

    It irritates me that many sensible energy efficiency, water conservation & low carbon measures that have been around for decades, could very easily and cheaply be implemented at construction stage, But because it would require more work, real investment in people’s training and a higher standard of work – or as you put it “hassle”, hence it won’t happen unless the government forces the issue.

    What doesn’t help matters is currently the developer doesn’t really pay for the service infrastructure, the utilities do. Whilst there may be good reasons for this (it does help to ensure that utility infrastructure is of a suitable quality and consistency of installation), it does mitigate against the implementation of beneficial ‘off grid’ schemes such as district heating.

    I hope in your written submission to the council you restate your demand for approval to be conditional on the inclusion of a district heating/energy scheme,

    I hope Ed Davey is coordinating the community energy strategy with Don Foster MP (Communities and Local Government), who has previously written about revisions to planning on LDV.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 7:47pm

    I think I’ve finally got my thoughts clear. I don’t know why anybody would ever set up a mutual or a co-operative, so I don’t like them. They may be “profit sharing”, but they aren’t “money sharing”.

  • Eddie salmon – the difference is supposed to be about short termism. Plcs require short term gains because the shareholders demand it and can cash in their shares if they’re not getting it. Mutual ownership is more widespread and the members are theoretically more involved, and the lack of liquidity ties them into longer germ thinking.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 7:53pm

    It’s not even that. If they were self-financed I wouldn’t care. But they aren’t. I’ve stressed myself out over this so I’m going. I think I’ve expressed my various problems with this sufficiently and my complaints are not personal.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 7:55pm

    Tabman, if you think mutuals are more competitive in the long-term than PLC’s then why don’t you set one up and where are they all? The reality is that if a mutual is funded by the government it is just another form of public sector employment, without the oversight. Like free schools.

  • John Lewis?

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 8:14pm

    Tabman, if people want to set up another John Lewis then I think that is fine, but I think they should fund it themselves. I’m not against favouring co-operatives and mutuals in procurement, but I think they need to be regulated more because many of them are not as selfless as they make out. Some of them are just plain misleading.

  • Oh. Its the public sector element you object to. Fair enough.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 9:27pm

    Tabman, having had my thoughts challenged on mutuals my opinion of them has improved. I think in a low tax society they would be broadly centrist, liberal and desirable.

  • Eddie. Amen to that.

  • “if people want to set up another John Lewis then I think that is fine, but I think they should fund it themselves”

    I think a part of the problem is that the ‘profits’ from a mutual/co-operative/community enterprise tend to go to the participants ie. the community, and tend to be invisible (that doesn’t mean they don’t exist only they don’t tend to be quantified or appear on the balance sheet), so the people who provided the capital in the first place don’t get such a good return on their investment and hence would tend to favour more traditional investments. Hence I think it is right that the government, as effectively the largest mutual fund in the country, steps in and provides seed funding at appropriate rates to establish new mutuals that are in it’s (and our?) long-term interest.

    One of the lessons from the UK broadband roll out is that upgrading local infrastructure (as opposed to backbone), is very expensive. So if we can get sufficient community schemes off the ground then we will all benefit as we won’t have to upgrade the power distribution network nor build additional (nuclear) power stations.

    The skill will be in getting the size of these community projects right, so that they can survive the churn in membership (that will happen over time) and generate sufficient revenues to cover on-going maintenance and renewal costs.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jan '14 - 10:54pm

    Hi Roland,

    Thanks for your argument in favour of the government providing seed funding for mutuals. My problem with this is that if the government provides the seed funding then I think it should be government owned.

    Regardless about the ownership structure, I think it is good that the Lib Dems are supporting renewables.

  • Hi Eddie
    “My problem with this is that if the government provides the seed funding then I think it should be government owned.”

    Interestingly, my problem with the BDUK (government funded broadband rollout) project is that BT get to own the infrastructure, not the ‘community’ (which is probably a not-for-profit business overseen by the county council). I think we will be paying a significant premium in the years to come for this mistake. So I think we are actually much closer in viewpoint that it would seem from the arguments we have put forward.

  • Stuart Mitchell

    You have a short memory! Don’t you recall who created the current energy market (and weak regulator) that Labour now so desperately want to fix?

  • andrew purches 28th Jan '14 - 2:33pm

    I must say that I am completely at sea with respect to the overall thinking behind the coalition’s energy policy,not least the underwriting of the minimum price paid to new providers, be they wind,land or sea, nuclear or photo voltaic, locally owned mutuals or otherwise. What I do know is that the largest wind farm operator in Germany has just filed for bankruptcy, and as to local community initiatives, there is no such thing as a “not or profit” business, mutual or otherwise. It can of course be a non profit distributing operation. All ventures need to sooner or later operate profitably,other wise there is no point in existing. Where the initial capital funding comes from is of course another consideration.

  • and once again a band aid get’s slapped onto a huge bleeding wound in the hopes that no one will notice they’re missing a leg. Community projects like this are all very well but what is needed is a cap on fuel prices. If Mr Davey was doing his job properly there’d be no need for these half-ars*d distractions from the real problems as people would already be able to afford light and heating in their homes. It’s time for the government to stop kowtowing to the fuel providers and take the step that every other country in the EU has already taken.

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